Listen to me read this story
It was dark when Traveler wandered into the village. The first thing he did was look for places where he could beg for food and find a warm place to sleep. He trotted past the town’s gas station and the general store which were both closed. He kept going until he smelled something wonderful coming from a ramshackle farmhouse at the end of a tree lined street. He went around back and saw an old woman bent over her stove. He scratched and whimpered at the door.
Hortense looked up and saw a mottled brown mutt on her porch. She turned the porch light on to get a better look.
“Hello boy, where did you come from?”
She looked at the chicken and potatoes browning in her iron skillet and back to the dog who was licking his chops.
“I see there will be two for dinner tonight.”
She cut her portion in half and opened the screen door.
Traveler sat on the kitchen floor while she put the food onto a plate. When she put it in front of him, he wolfed it down in a few bites.
“My Teddy always loved my chicken and potatoes too,” she said. “He was a good boy. We lost him in Korea,” Hortense said.
Traveler cocked his head to let her know he was listening. Humans always seemed to appreciate his listening to them, although he did not understand what the sounds meant. He liked the woman’s voice, it was kind.
“Teddy wanted a dog, but his father wouldn’t allow it. He’s gone now too, so I make my own decisions,” she said by way of muddled explanation.
She pulled a braided mat from under the kitchen table to a warm spot by the stove. “I’ll be in the next room if you need me. I’m glad you’re here. Goodnight.”
When Hortense woke at first light she padded into the kitchen in her robe and slippers. The mat by the stove was empty and the unlocked screen door was ajar. Her head was fuzzy from the night before; she dreamed Teddy came to visit and she wasn’t sure whether or not it was true.
Although she wasn’t hungry, she put on her apron and cooked sausage links and eggs in case Teddy wanted something to eat. Before she finished, the dog reappeared.
“I thought you might want breakfast,” she said.
The woman put the food in front of Traveler and he gobbled it up, glad for something warm in his belly.
“Your father never meant you any harm Teddy,” she said. “He was strict but you shouldn’t have run away. To think you were only sixteen when you joined the Army.”
Hortense shook her head as she pushed the remaining sausage links onto the plate along with the second fried egg. “It hurt me that they never found you; it broke your father for good. We buried an empty casket,” she said. She sat down at the kitchen table.
Traveler licked the plate clean. He went and nuzzled the woman’s hand.
Her tears wet the creases of her cheeks. “I didn’t know he was beating you; I swear it Teddy.”
Traveler put his head on the old woman’s knee. She stroked his ears. “I don’t deserve forgiveness for what happened to you, but I thank the lord you’ve come back to me,” she said.
She shuffled across the floor toward her bedroom. “I’m worn out Teddy. I need to lay my bones down and rest my weary soul.”
Traveler curled up on the mat beside the stove and fell asleep. When he woke, he barked and whimpered for the woman, but she did not rouse to feed him or stroke his ears.
As the long light of the afternoon made shadows on the kitchen floor still she did not come. He nudged the screen door open and went off to hunt frogs by the river.